Mining gold in coal country

WILKES-BARRE, PA – In between work assignments at the end of one week in northern Pennsylvania and in Washington, DC, at the beginning of the next, I decided to drop in for the final days of the Wilkes-Barre, PA, Winter Regional duplicate bridge tournament (March 8-10, 2013) that annually attracts many of the best players not only from the Philadelphia area, but from New York and other places along the Eastern Seaboard.

Since there is little or nothing else to do in Wilkes-Barre in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal belt (we didn’t feel like stimulating the economy by dropping money in the casino a mile down the road, leaving that task to others), I just played bridge in various combinations and teams. But the clear highlight was sweeping the Sunday Swiss teams competition with our United Nations team of Scotsman Colin Mackay, Canada’s Spencer Kiernan, my Armenian-American partner Christine Matus and myself as the Dutchman.

Our sweep of seven victories against no defeats as one of the lowest-ranked “D” teams over all of the other 25 higher-ranked “B” and “C” teams, a full 10 Victory Points (VPs) ahead of our nearest rival, earned us all 10.33 Gold MasterPoints – the second-highest one-day haul in my bridge career.

They were the first Gold points for our captain Spencer, an excellent gutsy player with lots of points who just hasn’t had the time because of work commitments to compete on a regular basis in the Regional tournaments where you can get the gold needed for your Life Master ranking. In one fell swoop Spencer got more than 40% of the gold he needs. We got only half a point less than the team of 30,000-point man Kenny Cohen won for taking first overall in the A/X category for the real pros.

Our victory in our own bracket truly represented the thrill of victory for some, like our captain Spencer, and the agony of defeat for others. In the last round, we came up against a team captained by a player with 10,000 MasterPoints, more than 15 times the amount of our highest-ranked player, who had his heart set on getting those last few Gold points he needed to get his Life Master ranking.

“Bye, bye, gold points,” the man started singing to the tune of “bye, bye, birdie” when it became apparent during the round that our team would beat his and once again deny him those few points he had so ardently sought for so long. The man even jokingly begged us to “throw” just one match, but we don’t do that.

Our victory was a true team effort. During the 49 boards we played over the course of the entire day at the Woodlands Resort, we all had our lapses of concentration, but whenever our East-West pair stumbled, our teammates picked us up and vice versa.

Lesser victories – all welcome

On Saturday, we had a fun single Swiss teams warmup game with Christine’s friend Gayle Davis and her partner Allan, winning two head-to-head matches and losing another two. Going into the last round, we had been tied for second place and in line for some more big points, but when we lost the last round, we fell just out of the top positions and had to be content with just the .40 MasterPoints from winning two matches.

With my partner Christine, we had also done well enough in the first session we played, in the Friday night open pairs, coming in second in the C stratification and earning another 1.48 Red MasterPoints. Our 50.25% score was right in the middle of a tightly bunched group of pairs and we were less than a point out of first place.

According to the Deep Finesse analysis contained in the hand records, we should have done much better. We played 15 boards better than par, two at par and only 7 below par. Our opponents missed many Slams and even Games, but apparently all the other North-South pairs playing the hands did the same, hence our score against human competition.

In that game, we did have one very satisfying hand in our round against the local tournament chairman, Ray DePew, and his partner Judy, when my spirited interference bidding kept them from finding their Slam fit. That made it a good “bridge burglar” hand.

Ray really played the board as North, but to make play easier to follow, we’ll turn the hands around and make him play it as South. In my column, he will become Loyal Larry, as the sidekick to my anti-hero, Flustered Flo. Ray’s partner Judy will become Flustered Flo with the North cards and she expressed extreme frustration at having been prevented by my interference bidding from making the bids she wanted to.

I’ll be West as Smug Sam and my partner Christine is East as Shy Shem – and this time she really had no choice but to remain shy during the auction. For the sake of full disclosure, I will reveal that in the playing of the hand I did not find the one lead capable of holding our opponents to just 5 Spades – I let them make 6 – but since the column is fiction anyway, Sam will find that lead in the column.

In any event the whole point of the column is the interference to keep the opponents out of the Small Slam in Clubs, and that point remains the same regardless of my lead.

The hand

South Dealer; North-South vulnerable

A J 8 6 2
10 5
K Q 8 5 3
West East
K 5 Q 9 4
Q 9 6 2   J 8 3
K Q J 10 9 5 7 6 4 2
4 J 9 2
10 7 3
A K 7 4
A 8
A 10 7 6

The bidding

South West North East
1 No-Trump 2 * 2 ** Pass
2 *** 3 3 No-Trump Pass
4 All pass

*2 was a Cappelletti convention bid indicating a one-suited hand
**2 was a Jacoby transfer bid indicating a five-card suit
***2 accepted the transfer from to

Opening lead: 4

How Flustered Flo played it

Active interference against 1 No-Trump opening bids is the order of the day these days at duplicate bridge tournaments, and many people play interference conventions like Cappelletti or Hamilton (using an artificial 2 Clubs bid for a one-suited hand), or DONT (bidding the lower of two suits).

If the responder to the 1 NT opener passes, many players using those defensive interference conventions are then happy to nab a partial contract at the 2 or 3 level. And if the responder to the opening 1 NT bid does have something and bids, well, then the defenders just bow out and let their opponents have the field.

But the value of having a distributional hand suitable for defensive bidding against 1 NT openers often lies in continuing to bid into the second round to really get in the way of the people who clearly have the majority of the points.

That’s what Flustered Flo found out when she played North on the diagrammed deal at a recent Regional tournament near her home club. She was dying to tell her partner, Loyal Larry, that she had a second five-card suit, apart from the five Spades she had told him about on the first round of bidding via the “transfer” bid route.

If she had been able to tell him about her Clubs, she and Larry very likely would have ended up in a Small Slam in Clubs, but as usual, Flo’s nemesis, Smug Sam, who was playing West, crashed her Slam party by hanging around the auction well into the second round of bidding and keeping up his interference.

Sam led his singleton Club on the opening trick, and Larry, playing the hand competently enough, captured it with his Ace. He immediately tried the Spade finesse and when Sam’s partner Shy Shem took the trick with the Queen, Shem returned a Club to let Sam ruff with his King, which would have otherwise become dead meat for Larry’s Ace.

Larry easily took the rest of the tricks by running his Clubs and cross-ruffing the remaining flotsam to make his 4 Spades Game contract with an overtrick, but Flo wasn’t happy.

“I’m sorry, partner,” she told Larry. “I think we have a Small Slam in Cubs and we missed it. After Sam over here made that 3 Diamonds bid, I had no more chance to bid my Clubs. I didn’t want to bypass 3 No-Trump in case you had Diamonds stopped and wanted to play there and I was hoping you’d take it as an indication that I did have Clubs. I wanted to give you your choice of where to play the hand, in Spades, No-Trump or Clubs if you had any.”

“Not to worry, partner,” said Larry, always very loyal to Flo, “it’s just one of those things. Sam didn’t let you bid your Clubs.”

“Your bid kept me from finding our fit for a Small Slam in Clubs,” said Flo, looking daggers at Sam, who just sat there, beaming smugly. “Most people don’t rebid if they can’t steal the bid on the first round with one of those interference conventions. What made you go on anyway?”

“Three reasons,” said Sam. “One: we weren’t vulnerable. Two: I had the hand for it, and Three: I love to get in your way, Flo.”

“Glad to make you happy,” said Flo, “but weren’t you afraid of getting doubled?”

“I would have gladly given you the 300 points from Down Two doubled not vulnerable,” said Sam. “Then you get even less than what you get for a vulnerable Game.”


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